Friday, November 20, 2009

Confusing Converstions 9: Clicher Texts

We should certainly take every verse of the bible seriously. However, we should also ensure that we do not "expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." (article XX, 39 articles)

So, when people claim to have "the clincher" verse on either side of the debate, we should certainly listen, but we should certainly also weigh with other Scriptures.

A clincher verse for some creationists is Romans 8:20-21.
"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."

The argument is that this shows that all decay and death (whether animal, plant??, radioactive??) is all a result of the fall. Even the second law of thermodynamics, it's argued, is a result of the fall. Perhaps this is why it is difficult to read the "science". Before the fall there would have been an entirely different science in place. (As far as I see, perhaps even a different mathematics, as the second law of thermodynamics is essentially the result of statistical mechanics)

The clincher for the non-literalist might be Genesis 1:6-8

6 And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

I would argue that there are not merely temporal problems in understanding the Genesis to be a literal scientifically accurate account. There are also spatial problems. Where is this place beyond the sky where these waters may have been stored (albeit possibly temporarily). It cannot be the upper atmosphere on a literalist reading, because the known universe is within the expanse/firmament, not beyond it (the sun, moon and stars are set within the expanse, not above it in 1:14-17).

I cannot see any way in which this makes sense within a scientifically accurate topography of the cosmos. It makes perfect sense if Moses borrowed the widely accepted topography of the universe in the Ancient Near East without challenging it, because that wasn't his point.

But I want to be cautious in suggesting that it is an absolute clincher. If other factors were to convince me of the necessity of the literalist view I would, by faith, have to trust that there was some way in which this did make sense within the early topography of the universe - a universe that was certainly a very different place to the one we know now, if there was not even any second law of thermodynamics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An atheist who thinks Christians are hateful if they DON'T seek to convert him.

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Confusing Conversations 8: The apologetic imperative.

Apologetics is an important discipline. We should consider carefully how to answer questions that the non-believer might have concerning biblical truths that we hold. Yet we should never hold truths just so that our apologetic response would be easier.
I've come across people from both sides of the creationist/theistic evolution debate who use as an argument for holding their position that it is an apologetic imperative.

The creationist might say, "It is an apologetic imperative that we hold to a six day creation. If we take a non-literal reading of Genesis Chapter One, the very first chapter of the bible, it will be impossibly complicated to then argue why we insist on taking a literal reading of the virgin birth, the sacrificial death and the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus. I just don't think that I'd be able to explain that to my next door neighbour."

The theistic evolutionist might say, "It is an apologetic imperative that we hold to an old earth, and some form of macro-evolution. There is such clear scientific evidence for them that if we don't follow that evidence where they lead, we will show ourselves to be obscurantists; I don't think I could even get a sounding for the gospel if I were to believe things like that."

Now, once one has decided whether or not one is going to take a literalistic view of Genesis 1, one could use these arguments to show why you think that view makes an important difference to your apologetics. But you should never start with the apologetic ease of a position and then decide whether you will hold it or not.

We should first be convinced by the text of Scripture one way or another, and then begin to think through the apologetic implications. Truth first, and then its defence.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Confusing Conversations 7: Symbolism

This week I'm back in the pulpit, returning to the series on Genesis 1-3
One of the things that I've noticed as I've preached through the series is the rich depth of symbolism throughout the chapters.
I've noted in a previous post the symbolic imagery of the temple, certainly in Genesis 2-3, and possibly in Genesis 1. God is building for himself a tabernacle: this tabernacle is to be the source of all life within the cosmos, and as such functions as a miniature cosmos.
But the symbolism doesn't stop there.
This week, I'm preaching on Genesis 3:8-13. There are some points that are so deeply inlaid with symbolism, that I feel we end up missing something if we move from the rich language of the narrative and try to reduce it to an historical account: 'what it would have looked like if we had been there.'
Even translation of some of the phrases in 3:8-13 leaves you having to make hard choices that limit the symbolic richness of the passage.

e.g. 3:8. Here are some decisions that must be made in translation "And they heard the voice/sound of the Lord God['s] walking in the garden in the spirit/wind/cool/evening/early morning of the/that day. And the man and his wife hid themselves amoungst/between the tree(s) (singular but is plural signified, or just one tree? If just one, which tree was it? Was it the one they ate from or the one that would have given them life, or just one of the other trees that they were free to eat from?)of the garden."

If one says that this must be a straight historical narrative, the best way to understand the "voice" is that it is the sound of the Lord's walking: as it were, his footsteps among the fallen leaves. Hamilton translates it "rustling sound". But if one allows this to be a symbolically-laden retelling of a real event: one where the symbolism is so rich that one is not supposed to reconstruct the actual historical line of the event, where we are not supposed so much to picture it in every detail, but explore the theological significance of it all (rather like, as we said in a previous post a Judges 5 rather than Judges 4 type account) then we have no problem in understanding this as the very voice (word?) of God walking in the garden.

Another factor that has led me more towards such a reading are the many parallels between the opening chapters of Genesis and the book of Revelation. Revelation is without doubt the book of the New Testament with the richest and most frequent use of the Old Testament. (See Greg Beale's excellent introduction in the Revelation entry in the "Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament"). Much of the significance of the theology of Revelation is that the visions that I believe John truly saw, are written in language that picks up huge amounts of symbolism from the Old Testament. The symbolism then becomes the point. We are not somehow supposed to try to reconstruct the actual details of the visions, as if we need to know the exact visual experience of John. The symbolic narration of the visions is God's intention for us in the visions. But I'm seeing more and more similarities between the realities portrayed in Revelation and realities portrayed in the early chapters of Genesis.

There seem to be two approaches to the symbolism of Genesis 1-3.

First approach says, that unless the account is also historically accurate in every detail, the symbolism loses its significance. Historical truth is the truth that is being portrayed. If we cannot 'trust' the account in its historical details, how can we 'trust' the symbolism.

The second approach says, that for the purpose of symbolism that gives a trustworthy theological account of the real historical events, a trustworthy author might employ language to describe an event that is not strictly historically accurate. But that the way in which the symbolism is so clearly being employed means there is no deception; we are to trust the author because the symbolism takes us deeper into the theological realities of the situation than a straight historical account would be able to do. Judges 5 is in many ways theologically richer than Judges 4, yet necessarily less "realistic".

So, whatever your take on the literalism of Genesis 1-3, I urge you not to miss its symbolism, where much of the richness of the theology of the text will be found.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

FIEL Conference 2

The rest of the time at the FIEL conference was a great privilege.
1) I got to hang out with some great brothers and sisters: an older brother in ministry, Stuart Olyott; a fellow elder, John Folmar (who so graciously put up with my snoring - one night on the plane and 3 nights in a hotel room); the leadership of FIEL, including the director, Rick Denham: hugely gifted in terms of vision and business acumen, and Tiago Santos: a brother with great theological insight and pastoral vision (you could tell he's got a great pastoral heart even by how he translated - he wasn't just translating it, he was preaching it!)
2) What a privilege to have the opportunity to encourage, and Lord willing, influence a group of pastors in a part of the world that is starving for the gospel. I was constantly encouraged by conversations with people who had made great sacrifices, and had a joyful trust in the Lord, even though the fruit seemed to be slow to become visible.
3) I was fed in my own soul through listening to the teaching of John Folmar, Sturat Olyott, and Augustus Nicodemus (as much as I could understand his Portuguese.)

Below are the remainder of the 9marks talks given by John and me.

These are a couple of Q&As that all four speakers were involved with:

This is the second half of the talk that Stuart gave on not preaching boring sermons, followed by his final address: